If multiple hyphenated terms share the same latter half, and I wish to list them without repeating that latter half, how should the hyphens be placed?

For example:

I will be investigating control issues in ground-based, water-based, and air-based robots.

If I do not want to repeat based, could I write:

I will be investigating control issues in ground-, water-, and air-based robots.

Is it correct to just leave a hyphen dangling after ground and water?

If not, how should it be written? I know the original sentence doesn't sound too bad, but I really just want to know the punctuation rule (or the convention in American English if there is no rule).

  • I believe Fowler (perhaps the most renowned of all English style books) recommends omitting the hyphens in such cases. The reasoning behind this is that it is readable enough without hyphens. – Cerberus_Reinstate_Monica May 7 '13 at 18:16
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    I don't believe that omission of hyphens is always going to be unambiguous. "We really have to prepare the ground- and sea-based forces." would be garden-pathy if not ambiguous. – Edwin Ashworth May 7 '13 at 18:54
  • The term for this is suspended hyphen. Wikipedia has a paragraph on it, and we have a dedicated tag. – RegDwigнt Apr 4 '14 at 22:58
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    This discussion was really hard to google—but I found it 😅 – Šime Vidas Jul 4 '18 at 22:37

Burchfield's 1998 edition of Fowler's Modern English Usage says under hyphen, listing its uses:

6 To represent a common second element in all but the last word of a list, e.g. two-, three-, or four-fold.

This usage is perfectly acceptable; and in some cases it's really essential as Edwin Ashworth has commented:

We really have to prepare the ground- and sea-based forces.

protected by tchrist May 25 '14 at 18:06

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